Film: The Great Dictator


"Democracy... SCHTONK!"
His Excellency Adenoid Hynkel, Phooey of Greater Tomainia, Conqueror of Osterlich, Future Emperor of the World

The Great Dictator is a famous Charlie Chaplin film about a European dictator who uses the Jewish people as a scapegoat for his country's problems and tries to ally himself with the republic of Bacteria, since both wish to annex the country in between them. At the same time, a World War I veteran with a case of Easy Amnesia — who happens to be a dead ringer for the dictator — returns to his barbershop in the Jewish ghetto to find out things aren't quite as nice as they used to be...

Chaplin planned and shot the film in 1939-1940; France was conquered during the filming, which may have influenced the final tone of the film. While Chaplin understood from first-hand accounts how hostile the Third Reich was to Jews, at the time of filming, he was ignorant of the true nature of Hitler's Final Solution (which nobody could have known about, as the Final Solution wasn't formalized and implemented until 1942). After World War II, Chaplin expressed some regret about the film, telling interviewers that he might not have made it if he'd known the whole story. That would be an artistic challenge Roberto Benigni would take up 50 years later with the Oscar winning Dramedy, Life Is Beautiful.

The Great Dictator was (of course) banned in Nazi Germany, although prints of the film still found their way into occupied Europe. According to an eyewitness, Adolf Hitler obtained a copy of the film and watched it twice; when Chaplin found this out, he said that he would give anything to know what he thought of it. Britain had announced that they were going to ban the film while the film was in production (so that it wouldn't interfere with the country's appeasement policy with Nazi Germany), but when the film was released, Britain had entered the war against the Nazis, and the film couldn't be brought in fast enough; it ended up providing some badly needed laughs at a time where laughs were in short supply for Britain (and most of Europe).

Ironically, for all of the controversy surrounding it, The Great Dictator was not the first American anti-Nazi comedy film — Chaplin was upstaged by The Three Stooges with the short film You Nazty Spy by nine months.

The film is also a landmark for Chaplin himself - it was his first all-sound film, released over a decade after the rest of Hollywood transitioned to sound. (In the meantime Chaplin had stubbornly made City Lights and Modern Times as silent films.) And although the barber is explicitly not the Tramp character, he nonetheless has the Tramp's physical appearance - baggy clothes, big shoes, cane, and that moustache - and thus this film marks the final time Chaplin would invoke some version of this character on screen.

For the Sacha Baron Cohen movie, see The Dictator, which is also a satire.

The Great Dictator includes examples of the following tropes:

  • Adolf Hitlarious: Came pretty close to being the Ur Example and Trope Maker, but was beaten out by The Three Stooges' You Nazty Spy.
  • Armies Are Evil: The Tomanian Army.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: A quite memorable (and hilarious) example of faux-German
  • As the Good Book Says: The barber quotes The Bible (specifically Luke 17:20 - 17:21) in his Rousing Speech: "In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written " the kingdom of God is within man " - not one man, nor a group of men - but in all men - in you, the people!"
  • Author Tract/Balcony Speech: "Look up, Hannah".
  • Awesome but Impractical: Lampshaded with the inventions by Hynkel's scientists.
  • Bicep-Polishing Gesture: Hynkel briefly affects this when discussing the strength of the Aryan people.
  • Black Speech: The pseudo-Germanic gibberish that constitutes all but three words of Hynkel's opening address. It's so difficult to pronounce that Hynkel descends into coughing fits twice during the speech.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The closing speech is not delivered by the barber impersonating Hynkel, but by Charles Chaplin speaking directly to an audience that, at the time the film was made, was just entering into World War II.
  • The Caligula: Hynkel.
  • Cannon Fodder: Discussed during the final speech.
    "Soldiers! Don't give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder."
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: When the Jewish Barber is hanging to an upside-down plane by just the throttle, he never even raises his voice. When the plane starts to dive, Schultz rambles about his beloved and daffodils, and continues even after the plane crashes.
    Schultz: We're upside-down.
    Jewish Barber (hanging on for dear life): I'm aware.
    Schultz: Give me that stick. (so he can pilot the inverted plane)
    Jewish Barber: Absolutely not.
  • Darker and Edgier: cranked up to eleven for Chaplin. Especially when viewed with hindsight.
  • The Eeyore: One of the Jewish men at the ghetto.
  • Egopolis: The capital of Tomainia is completely dedicated to their Fooey, from Hynkelstrassen to Hynkel Stadium.
  • The Empire: Tomainia.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Hynkel is frightened at the prospect of being referred to as a god, despite his global aspirations.
  • Evil Chancellor: Garbitsch.
  • Evil Laugh: Hynkel gets off a scary cackle before his dance with the globe.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Garbitsch again.
  • Expy: Although Chaplin, the film itself, and movie historians were and are adamant that the Jewish Barber is not the Little Tramp character Chaplin portrayed on screen between 1914 and 1936, anyone with eyes can see the obvious similarities, from the mustache to the shoes.
  • Gainax Ending: An extraordinary one in which Chaplin steps out of character and delivers a Rousing Speech.
  • General Failure: Grand Marshall Herring, who keeps bringing worthless experimental weapons for the Phooey to observe.
    Herring: [excited] We've developed the most wonderful poison gas. [childlike glee] It will kill everybody.
  • The Generalissimo: Hynkel
  • History Marches On: What the world later learned about the concentration camps makes the scene where the barber is sent to a very mild-looking concentration camp rather jarring. Chaplin later said that if he'd understood just how evil the Nazis really were, he wouldn't have made the film. That said, with the knowledge of hindsight, the portion of Hynkel's first speech where he begins talking about "der Jewden" becomes unbelievably chilling, as does an otherwise innocuous scene in which Hynkel orders one of his close advisers to be sent to a concentration camp.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Commander Schultz.
  • Hidden Elf Village: Osterlich.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Hynkel gets arrested by his own men who are looking for the Jewish barber.
  • Hufflepuff House: Bacteria.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Dark-haired Hynkel and Garbitsch talk about how brunettes can't be trusted, unlike Aryan blondes.
  • Identical Stranger / Evil Twin: Both fictional dictator Hynkel and the unnamed barber, and (to a lesser extent) Hitler & Chaplin.
  • Insignia Ripoff Ritual: Whenever Field Marshal Herring pisses Hynkel off, Hynkel rips off all of his medals.
  • Large Ham: Chaplin (and by extension, Hynkel) is clearly having a total blast doing his rousing, macaronic faux-German speech.
  • Mickey Mousing: An astonishing scene where the Jewish Barber shaves a customer in perfect time with the Hungarian Dance #5. Supposedly the intent was to record multiple takes and piece it together in editing; instead Chaplin brought the phonograph to the set, played the music, and nailed the entire routine on the first practice take.
  • Military Mashup Machine: Underwater tanks and flying dreadnoughts are mentioned.
  • Mind Screw: Hynkel and Garbitsch try to psychologically dominate Benzino. It doesn't work.
  • Missed Him by That Much: The closest Hynkel and the Jewish Barber come to ever interacting in the movie is when the latter is being terrorised by the former's Hate Plague radio address prior to a pogrom.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The sons and daughters of the Double Cross.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Asserted at the beginning on the film.
  • No Ending: Or, rather, an ending that leaves the plot hanging for a (quite effective and moving) Author Tract.
  • No Name Given: The main character is a barber whose name is never revealed. This one of several points of similarity between the barber and Chaplin's Little Tramp character, who likewise usually goes nameless in many of his films.
  • No Swastikas: The Double Cross.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Commander Schultz.
  • Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: Parodied - the film begins with the notice: "Any resemblance between Hynkel the dictator and the Jewish barber is purely co-incidental".
  • Pie in the Face: The Foreign Correspondent who sneaks into Hynkel's palace receives one of these after Garbitsch insists that the Hynkel-Napaloni negotiations are going swimmingly.
  • Politicians Kiss Babies: Adenoid Hinkel kisses some babies after a rally. The baby pisses on him.
  • Prince and Pauper: The dictator and the barber in this case.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: The dictator plays with his "globe" in a manner similar to a very young child in his office.
  • Punny Name: Garbitsch and Herring, along with the title "Phooey" instead of "Fuehrer".
  • Rip Van Winkle: The protagonist got amnesia and spent the whole time between WWI and WWII in a mental asylum.
  • Ruritania: Tomainia, Osterlich and Bacteria. AKA Germany, Austria, and Italy respectively.
  • Rousing Speech: At the end of the film, the barber mistaken for Hynkel is supposed to give a victory speech. Instead, he gives a speech in which he calls for humanity in general to break free from dictatorships and use science and progress to make the world better.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Hynkel's dance concludes with the globe popping in his hands. Given the speech at the end, it's another part of the theme that civilization cannot survive if men like Hynkel are allowed to pursue their twisted goals.
  • Rushmore Refacement: The Venus De Milo and Rodin's Thinker doing the Nazi Salute.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Hynkel's dance with the inflatable globe is set to the hauntingly beautiful Act 1 Prelude to Wagner's Lohengrin.
  • Spinning Paper: To show the passage of time.
  • Spock Speak: Garbitsch.
  • Studio Audience: Hynkel can command applause and cause it to cease instantly by waving his hand.
  • Tactful Translation: Done with the dictator's speechehere.
  • Take Over the World: Hynkel's goal.
    "Aut Caesar aut nullus. Emperor of the world. My world."
  • Take That: Chaplin's closing speech. For a man known for being silent, when Chaplin spoke, he had something to say.
    • Fascist Italy is turned into Bacteria.
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: "Any resemblance between Hynkel the dictator and the Jewish barber is purely co-incidental".
  • Those Wacky Nazis
  • Translation: Yes: Done with one of Hynkel's speeches.
  • Visual Pun: Would you trust a regime that uses the double cross as its symbol?
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Hannah.